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Writing Workshop and the Jar of Ideas

December 15, 2020 | Heather Palmer Welesko

This last term, the third grade has tried a new approach in writing. Instead of concentrating on a large writing project and taking it through the writing process, Ms. Kuperus and I brainstormed and piloted a new writing model: the writing workshop.

The workshop focuses on skill building and idea production. Here’s how it works: students choose an idea for “the jar of ideas.” They can choose three slips. Each slip shows a writing prompt. Students choose one of the prompts, or they can create their own, and they write for at least 10 minutes. Many students love the jar, and end up writing for up to 20 minutes without stopping. In their writing, they learn to incorporate both grammar rules and a skill of the day.

For instance, in the morning meeting, students learn grammar and the mechanics of English. Right now, they are learning about the use of conjunctions in compound sentences. In writing workshop, students apply this learning to their chosen writing prompt.

A writing skill we are working on is the use of transitions. Specifically, we are learning how to use “furthermore,” “however,” and “for instance.” They are challenged to use these transitions in their writing.

At the end of writing workshop, students gather around to hear each others work and give verbal feedback. Students love to stand up and read their writing. It is delightful to hear each of their voices come to life. At the end, students save their work in their blue writing folder. Later, they will have the option to take one of these ideas through the entire writing process–from drafting to publishing.

The writing workshop allows students to release the need to see a project through to perfection, and concentrates on what real writers do: the drafting of an idea. This method increases student engagement and love of writing.


Heather Palmer Welesko

Assistant Teacher, Grade 4

Heather Welesko has taught at Mustard Seed School for seven years as an assistant teacher and for over five years as a literacy teacher. Prior to that she was a literature and writing composition professor at Kean University and Harold Washington College of Chicago. Heather has an MFA in writing and poetry from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Evangelical Seminary.

Ms. Welesko has advanced training in the Handwriting Without Tears program; the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Program, and the Responsive Classroom/ Development Designs Program through Origin. She continues professional develop through The Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She’s passionate about literature, creativity, comprehensive education, believes strongly in teaching identity and diversity awareness.

Ms. Welesko is a poet, artist, and yogi, and is currently learning.

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